In a major setback for the economy, the nation's jobless rate jumped to 9.8% in November as employers added a surprisingly measly amount of new jobs over the month, the government said Friday.
The unemployment rate had been at 9.6% in the prior three months. The increase last month came as employers added just 39,000 jobs in November -- a sharp drop-off from a revised 172,000 job gains in October and an average monthly gain of 86,000 this year.
Many analysts were expecting that the report would show a second strong month of job growth, on the order of 150,000 or more new jobs. And there have been other signs that the long-sluggish labor market may be gaining momentum.
But the disappointing Labor Department report indicates that employers remain reluctant to add workers nearly 18 months after the official end of the recession. And the report flies in the face of a batch of other recent economic indicators suggesting that economic growth is accelerating.
There was almost nothing positive in the November jobs report. Despite prospects for stronger holiday sales, retail employment fell by 28,000 over the month. Manufacturing payrolls slid by 13,000, and the government sector shrank by 11,000 jobs. Payroll gains came, once again, from temporary-help firms and health and education services.
Employers also didn't add any more work hours for their existing employees, and the average hourly earnings rose by just one cent from October.
The number of jobless workers tallied by the government went back above 15 million last month. And of that group, 6.3 million have been without work for more than six months, with many of them now looking at losing their unemployment benefits in the coming weeks.
The latest report dashed hopes for a quick turnaround in the job market. "We don't see any signs that this holiday season will jump-start 2011 employment," said Kathy Bostjancic, director of macroeconomic analysis at the Conference Board, a business research group.